This Contractor with a Difference Makes Projects Happen

Written by Pauline Müller

One of the most promising signs of a quality contractor is repeat business – and commercial contractor and developer Russell’s return customer metrics sit at well over sixty percent every year. With an eye on continuous improvement, respect, and trust, this is a commercial contractor and developer with a difference, serving a wide range of industries vertical construction projects.

Russell currently has a labor presence in more than fourteen U.S. states, building industrial and federal government facilities, schools, hotels for multi-national chains, and much more.

President Caitlin Russell describes the company as a “customer-centric solutions provider in the built environment space. We provide anything to help make [projects] happen,” she says.

This means that the team identifies clients’ exact needs, whether that be suitable land, scrupulous real estate brokers, or building plans. “We differentiate ourselves by [leaving] the box. We are very partner-based throughout our organization,” a key element in any project’s success, Caitlin adds. The company offers real estate development, Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) technologies, and more, including experience in LEED-certified and Green Globes construction, giving the team a thorough understanding of environmental stewardship on mainstream commercial and federal projects.

At present, Russell is celebrating several recent mergers, including the acquisition of a St. Louis-based contractor with a 100-year legacy almost two years ago. In January 2022, Russell acquired Olathe, Kansas-based Merit General Contractors, founded by Don Crabtree in 1991. Russell also added several key players from Manning Construction to its Kansas City outfit only a few weeks ago in a bid to continue expanding its presence throughout the Midwest. “Looking to provide [opportunities] for our people is what it comes down to,” says Caitlin. “We have a strong team member base, and they [always want] to do more and grow themselves. We feel that growing as an organization gives people opportunities for individual and [professional] growth.”

Russell was founded in Iowa in 1983 by Caitlin’s father James Russell, who is also father to Sam Russell, the Director of the Kansas City operation. Company legend has it that the firm’s accountant counseled caution after its first five years in business, nudging Jim Russell to move onto perhaps more lucrative pursuits. Luckily for the company, Jim Russell would hear none of it and persisted in following his passion.

Today, the company is proof of what faith, commitment, and determination to succeed can do for anyone with a dream. It also helps to have a team behind you. As it happens, Caitlin and Sam’s grandmother was their father’s first member of staff, helping out both in the office as well as financially, in the early months.

To “grow the firm, we had to take on projects outside the Quad Cities. We travel for work and our clients, and we are very proud of [our repeat client] metric,” says Caitlin, pointing out that today, as much as forty percent of the company’s revenue is earned in areas beyond the borders of its hometown.

The secret to its flourishing trade is deceptively simple. “It’s important to have cultural alignment with the client. We always want to bring the right team members to the table to best serve each client,” she adds.

Considering this robust and transparent approach to meeting clients’ needs, it is no wonder that clients report an appreciation for Russell treating their money as if it were its own. “That’s impactful to me because that’s how we want our clients to feel. We want them to feel like we are an extension of them. We have their best interest in mind, and we’re there to provide them with the opportunity to make decisions. It’s not our end product. This is their money and their product. We’re there to help them through that process,” Caitlin says.

The result is that large companies like Cargo Largo, a 65-year-old player in the City of Independence’s local retail and e-commerce market, trust Russell to build the infrastructure they need from which to expand their commerce and territories. As director of the Kansas City operation, Sam Russell shared some of the features of this most recent flagship project with us.

Measuring in at around 630,000 square feet, the facility’s design for its handling and conveyor systems is impressive. It includes distribution spaces, warehousing, call center capacity, light manufacturing, functional areas for retail and e-commerce, enough room for auctions and business-to-business / business-to-consumer sales venues, plus ample and organized car and truck parking lots.

The Cargo Largo project “is a built-to-suit building for a unique client that [resells] retail, repackaging and then selling unopened boxes to the general public,” he says, adding that the team broke ground “just over two months ago. The expected completion date is in March of 2023,” showcasing the great speed at which a project of this size can be completed by the team. Dee Pack, the owner of the Cargo Largo project, could not be happier.

“It’s all about performance. Russell/Cargo Largo is consolidating six locations into one [to expand] our capacity to serve. The stakes are high,” says Dee. He is especially satisfied with the team’s flexibility, knowledge, and that everyone is committed to finding solutions to challenges. “We need a partner who can deliver the job on a basis that allows us to maintain the high service levels we provide [to] our audiences. We chose Russell because of their personnel’s proven track record delivering similar [buildings] to quality, timeline, and budgetary expectations,” he adds.

Finding the right people for every position throughout an organization is the goal of every good company around the globe, and Russell attracts and retains innovative team players with integrity. In return, the company offers a flexible work environment where accountability and engagement rank high. Caitlin’s father “deserves a lot of credit for being adaptable and looking forward to change. That is what allowed us to grow and take on new projects and add team members,” she adds.

Universal paid time off is also flexible, allowing “adults to be adults,” as the president puts it. She also remarks that staff members do not take enough vacation, despite having the freedom to do so.

The company believes in making the recruitment process smooth to get new employees trained, on the team, and working as soon as possible. “Team members are a reflection of us. They are the people that repeat clients come back for. When you think of Russell, it comes down to our people. They’re the ones making the impact on all these people,” says Caitlin.

To support its people, the company gives them what they need to thrive so that clients will have the best experience when working with the company. “Giving people the autonomy and the tools to be effective is key to our success,” she adds.

Taking care of its people’s safety is also a big deal for a company that works to ensure its customers’ and its staff’s well-being on every project. “Safety is our number one core value. [It] is above all else when it comes to what we do. [We make] sure that everybody’s going home, and that everybody’s working safely,” says Sam.

This is about more than the physical safety of staff and site visitors. Russell recently started putting increased importance on good mental health and wellness. “COVID highlighted the challenges [that] the mental state can have on safety. We just recently revamped our core values, and that was one of the things that we as a team thought was important to add,” says Caitlin.

By paying for any type of counseling that any members of staff or their families may need and by providing an in-house coach to support professional growth, the company is exhibiting a genuine commitment to the future and happiness of its team. Because, after all, recent years have taught us that unhealthy mental states can cost people their lives, and this is simply too high a price to pay when intervention is readily available and free of the stigma that historically hounded those who received counseling.

The company encourages people to make sure “that they are taking care of their mind as much as they are of their bodies,” Caitlin says. She proudly illustrates that the team’s much appreciated “desire to innovate and be better than they were the day before,” are stand-out traits that make the Russell team tenacious and dynamic which meant a lot when COVID-19 raised challenges.

However, COVID also provided an opportunity to prepare the company for any similar situations to come. Thanks to being on top of all the latest technology that makes remote work possible and the personal commitment and drive of each team member, the company could trust each employee to help pull through what was, and remains, arguably the toughest economic challenge of the past decade.

The experience has also led to Russell future-proofing its operations in ways that enable it to responsibly grow its stakes in the United States’ construction market. Now it is set to continue growing its teams and providing them with everything they need to continue providing customers with the best service.



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